Newsbrief: Alaska Governor Seeks to Overturn Legal Home Marijuana Possession 1/28/05

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Alaska is the only state in the nation where possession of personal amounts of marijuana for one's own use in one's own home is legal under state law, and the state's law enforcement and political establishments can't stand it. In the latest effort to override the state constitution, on January 21 Republican Governor Frank Murkowski asked the state legislature to ignore two Alaska Supreme Court rulings and re-criminalize home marijuana possession. And while he's at it, Gov. Murkowski wants to increase some current marijuana misdemeanors to felonies.

In September, the Alaska Supreme Court upheld an earlier lower court ruling allowing adults to have up to four ounces of pot at home for their personal use. That lower court ruling was based on a 1975 Alaska Supreme Court ruling in Ravin v. State, where the state's highest court held that the state constitution's strong privacy protections outweighed any harm caused by at-home marijuana use. That remained the law until 1990, when voters passed an initiative outlawing any amount of marijuana. But in the recent rulings, the courts held that a constitutionally-protected right -- in this case, the right to use marijuana at home -- cannot be erased by a majority vote.

Murkowski has introduced a bill that would once again seek to trample on the state constitution, this time by hyping the alleged dangers of today's marijuana. "The Legislature finds that marijuana poses a threat to the public health that justifies prohibiting its use in this state, even by adults in private," the bill asserts.

Although it sounds like Murkowski has already made up his mind about the health risks of pot, he touted the bill as an opportunity to explore those risks. "The bill would provide a forum for the Legislature to hear expert testimony on the effects of marijuana and to make findings that the courts can rely on," the governor said in a letter to lawmakers.

Murkowski's hope is that the Alaska courts can be swayed to reconsider their decisions if he can persuade them the health risks of marijuana are significantly greater today than in years past. While that is open to debate, what is certain is that any legislation attempting to override current law will be challenged. "Unconstitutional still remains unconstitutional no matter what the Legislature thinks," said William Satterberg, the Fairbanks attorney who successfully argued the appeals court case that reinstated legal home weed in Alaska.

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Issue #372 -- 1/28/05

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